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It seems so often we are offered inspirational quotes and sayings that are supposed to help us through the hard times. The poster shown above was created by the British government’s Ministry of Information in 1939, as a way to encourage Brits to retain their infamous “stiff upper lip”. Interestingly enough, although millions were printed, they were not to be posted unless there was an imminent German invasion. Since this never occurred, the posters were mostly recycled with a few being put into storage. The message might have been lost in history had it not been for a bookshop owner and his wife who bought at auction a box full of memorabilia that included some of the posters. They put one up in their shop, and when people started inquiring about buying it, they decided to print a few copies. They have now sold tens of thousands of posters, mugs, T-shirts and other souvenirs, to customers including Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

In a work environment, some people respond to these messages positively and are inspired to push through the difficulty, and others are frustrated and distracted, perhaps thinking the quote oversimplifies a challenge they are facing. Is it worth trying to use these methods in your employee motivation? Do you know your team well enough to understand how they will react? Do you even know how your team members handle a challenge? These are all important questions to ask yourself as a manager. If the answer to any of them is no, get out there and talk to your employees. Do not pass GO, do not collect $20. You can’t motivate people if you don’t know what makes them tick. They might need an adapted version of the wartime poster above.

If you have a strong culture associated with your brand, then I am quite likely preaching to the choir. You probably have sayings that revolve around your mission and values. (HINT: if you haven’t done this, it’s a good way to start discussion about what is important and how you communicate it to employees, and to customers).

If these ideas are something you haven’t gotten around to trying, then here are some tips I have found work well…

  • Don’t get too carried away – plastering all the walls with witty sayings will just have everyone ignoring them
  • Possibly not a good choice?

    • Find something that relates to your work environment. If your team works longer shifts that are often hectic, show them you know it’s like being in battle. Remember to remain positive, however…
  • Remember a sense of humour. One of the best quotes I ever learned was “Smile – it’s the best revenge”. By the same token, reminding people to have fun about taking their job seriously is always a good technique.

When I worked in movie catering, we usually operated in overdrive as time was always of the essence. Six hours to clean up a breakfast buffet akin to the one at the local four star hotel, do the dishes and make a full buffet lunch for 100 – 200 people made for a busy day! A girlfriend I worked with used to say, especially on a tricky day …”We are never given more than we can handle”. On a day when there might be no electricity to plug in the toaster or the Cuisinart mixer, I was ready to blow my top with that sentiment. But she was right – we would get through the new challenge presented that day, because we had to, and at the end of the day we would feel exhilarated and ready to take on the world.

a WW I poster design, courtesy of vintagraph.com

In movie catering, we were a team of two. The whole crew of sixty people or so was a tight-knit group, each with their own unique responsibilities but all with a respect for the necessity of each piece of the puzzle. There wasn’t time for uplifting motivational sessions to start or end the day, but thank you’s and pats on the back were a common occurrence. Even without the producer dropping by to thank people, they knew they were valued. People took ownership of their work and that was appreciated.

If there is no recognition in the workplace, then the thrill that employees get from their achievements will not be associated with their team, it will be a solitary victory. Most people will eventually leave a workplace like this, because there is no reason to stay. They learn they can survive on their own, and there is no benefit to staying in a void.

Whether your team faces challenges that are big or small, pressing or long-term, let them know that you value their participation and their stamina to stick it out. The strength and knowledge they gain will be to your advantage if you appreciate their efforts.

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